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Plant A Tree To Celebrate Arbor Day

April 27th is National Arbor Day, Tuolumne County Master Gardener Carolee James provides some history of the event and provides an overview of the best trees to plant in the Mother Lode.

In 1854, pioneer J. Sterling Morton moved to the Nebraska Territory from Detroit, Michigan. Lovers of nature, he and his wife soon filled their property with many trees, shrubs and flowers. Morton was a journalist and became editor of Nebraska’s first newspaper, where he published agriculture information along with articles and editorials advocating tree planting.

In January 1872, after becoming secretary of the Nebraska Territory, Morton proposed a tree-planting holiday to be called “Arbor Day.” Today the most common date for state observances is the last Friday in April.

Each year one acre of trees absorbs the amount of carbon produced by driving a car 26,000 miles! Children who have a view of greenery perform better at school. Businesses on tree-lined streets have 12% more sales. Residential properties increase in value by 5-20% with trees on the property.

My all time favorite tree for leaf color in spring, summer and fall is the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum). The choices are endless. Sizes range from dwarfs to nine-foot-tall trees; leaf colors range from pale greens to burgundies and everything in between. They withstand our temperatures (with some shade) and do well in pots or in the ground.

Some of our native trees are perfect in any garden setting and have the advantage of being adapted to our weather and topography. If you don’t have them, then consider adding: incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens), western dogwood (Cornus nuttallii), California bay (Umbellularia californica) and, of course, any species of our native conifers and oaks.

Non-native trees known for their colored foliage include the following. Flowering plum (Prunus cerasifera, ‘Krauter Vesuvius’), with its spring pink blossoms and dark purple leaves, makes a nice contrast to our green-leafed native oaks. Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis) offers wonderful orange-to-red fall color. For a blast of yellow, Ginkgo biloba’s fan-shaped leaves-light green in spring and summer-turn gold in the fall. For beautiful, large tulip-like white to pink to purplish red flowers in the spring, tulip tree (Magnolia soulangeana) is spectacular. As is the flowering-pink, white, lavender, red-crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica).

BUT….don’t even consider the following trees for any part of your landscape. They are so invasive….plant one and in a few years you’ll have dozens that out-compete native trees! Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), while a beautiful shade tree, is considered a noxious weed. It self-sows through seed and suckers profusely. The Empress Tree (Paulownia tomentosa), while touted for being fast growing and large (40-50′ tall and wide), is also invasive. It propagates from fallen seed. You’ll be digging up little ‘royalties’ forever! Another large tree that looks beautiful but can be a big thug in the garden is the black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia). It also reseeds, suckers from roots, and is difficult to prune due to its hard wood. Chinese tallow tree (Sapium sebiferum) is another noxious plant in the garden. This tree self-sows through seeds and has become very invasive.

Carolee James is busy developing her new backyard. Trees will be part of her Arbor Day celebration.